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Five Years On E-mail this
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Ali Marzook, Institute for War and Peace Reporting, Mar 20, 2008

BAGHDAD - It's been five years since the so-called occupation, liberation, invasion - and we're not witnessing progress.

In fact, there are no signs of development. Our infrastructure is damaged, as is the spirit of the people. There is little optimism for the future. Instead, we are surrounded by fear, depression and violence.

I returned to Baghdad late last year and initially felt hopeful. I had lost neighbors and friends, but the violence was lessening as security had improved.

As I have further explored Baghdad, however, my first impressions of hope have been dashed. The city center is surrounded by cement walls now, resembling a jail. The paintings on the walls don't make up for the beauty that is lost. These cement barriers are giant creatures swallowing up the city's historical landmarks and its beauty and greatness.

The change is not just structural. Fear has taken over the people, who are suspicious of even those they usually trust. The fear has cut away at the city's once-famous social fabric.

No one dares to utter a controversial word in front of his friend or neighbor, for fear that the individual may report him to a political party or militia.

When I tried to talk with one man about Iraq's critical situation, his 19-year-old son interrupted, saying, 'Please, we aren't involved in politics. We don't know you or your party.'

When I assured him that speaking about issues was not political, he replied, 'Everything now is political.'

Most Iraqis look exhausted - the tension and nervousness apparent on their pale faces. The fear is apparent in their eyes, as well. They anticipate death at any moment, on any corner, because no one knows when a car or roadside bomb might explode.

People thank God when they arrive home safely to enjoy time with their families. But as night falls and darkness prevails, the atmosphere also grows dark. Residents sit in blackness - electricity and water are scarce - to guard their homes. They do not know if a militia will come to kill or kidnap under the protection of the black sky. The shooting heard at night, mostly random, deepens people's fear and acts as a constant reminder that they may be the next victim.

The biggest danger in Baghdad is the break up of families, particularly if parents are from different sects. Families are tired and anxious, and children are paying the price through neglect. Fed up with what is going on outside of their homes, parents cannot deal with stresses at home.

Chaos and the absence of law and order have forced Baghdad residents to adopt a survivalist mindset, but it does not seem that many in power care that such large numbers of residents are poor and live on the edge of hunger. Many have no salaries or pensions.

The bitterness is clear. Officials make promises and speeches, but Iraqis dismiss them, as they don't believe that any pledge relates to the realities on the ground. The politicians are considered liars, and the parliament dead. It does nothing for the interests of the people, and only cares about increasing their salaries and benefits.

Parliament may not represent the citizens or defend their rights, but their sessions are broadcast on television. Some consider watching these sessions a waste of time. But for others, it's like viewing a candid camera show. For once, people are provided with some much-needed comic relief.

Ali Marzook is an IWPR-trained journalist.


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